That’s all in the Protean character…. Everything changes: land, water, dog, time of day. Parts of speech change, too. Adverb becomes verb. – James Joyce
This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and break it down line by line.
The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 47 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “After he woke me…” and ends “You will see who.”
As Stephen sits watching Tatters the dog cavort across the sands of Sandymount Strand near the end of “Proteus,” his mind jumps from pards and panthers to the English student Haines. Stephen was awoken in the middle of the night due to Haines’ screaming about a nightmare of a black panther, and now he recalls an interesting dream of his own. We’ve already discussed Stephen’s own nightmare of his mother’s angry shade, but Stephen’s second dream focuses on his future rather than his past. In the past, we’ve explored Stephen’s relationship with the Akasic record, which allows him access to the memories of all humankind. The Akasic record, however, can also show the future. Craig Carver explains:
In sleep this spectacle is often spontaneously perceived by the self freed of the domination of external impressions.
Meaning, one can experience a freer form of perception, detached from all those ineluctable modalities in a dream state. Suddenly, those modalities become… eluctable I guess?
Just a note: if you haven’t read all of Ulysses yet, there are massive spoilers for the end of Ulysses in this post since it’s an analysis of Stephen’s prophetic dream. If you’re particularly spoiler-averse, be glad that Joyce made this opaque enough to not really be comprehensible the first time you read Ulysses, but maybe save this post for later.
Stephen’s recollection of his dream in “Proteus” is described by David L. McCarroll as, “perhaps the most significant preparation for [Stephen and Bloom’s] confrontation.” Due to James Joyce’s fascination with dreams (he recorded his own and sometimes used them in his work), it seems natural that a dream would play a key role in foreshadowing the climax of Ulysses. Let’s break down Stephen’s dream:
After he woke me last night same dream or was it? Wait.
The “he” here is Haines, naturally.
Open hallway. Street of harlots. Remember.
In his dream, Stephen sees an open hallway and a “street of harlots.” This can be interpreted as the hallway leading to Bella Cohen’s brothel in Nighttown that Stephen visits in “Circe.” I suppose since it’s a street of harlots, an “open hallway” could also have a more, er, Freudian interpretation as well.
The phrase “street of harlots” could be a call back to Mr. Deasy’s recitation of a bit of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence.” He quotes, “The harlot’s cry from street to street/ Shall weave Old England’s winding sheet,” to emphasize to Stephen the destruction, in Mr. Deasy’s mind, the Jews are doing to England. It’s a bit of a stretch connecting it to our current passage, although Stephen does meet a kind Jewish man amidst all those harlots.
Haroun al Raschid.
Haroun al Raschid was both a real person and a fictional character, a quality he shares with many of the figures in Ulysses. In real life, al Raschid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, ruling that city during its zenith in the 8th and 9th centuries. Whether he was a mighty ruler who entertained Charlemagne and brought Baghdad into her glory as a city or a vicious, murdering rat bastard seems to depend on who you ask. My guess is both. Al Raschid received a fortuitous posthumous rebranding when he was written as a main character in many of the tales in A Thousand and One Nights. There he is portrayed as a generous and benevolent ruler who was fond of donning disguises to travel through his city and solving the problems of ordinary citizens. A Thousand and One Nights was quite popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Joyce himself owned two copies, one in English and one in Italian.
The Haroun al Raschid appearing to Stephen is Ulysses’ own heroic pervert, Leopold Bloom. I’ve read source after source that tells me this is the case, often adverbally adorned with words like “clearly” and “obviously.” I suppose my age is showing in that I’ve never really seen Bloom, an ethnically Hungarian Jewish Dubliner, as Middle Eastern, but it seems his Semitic heritage was enough to make this link clear to readers in earlier decades. It’s worth keeping in mind the era in which Ulysses was written – a time when the British Empire (of which Ireland was then a part) held numerous colonies throughout the Middle East and Asia. The conflation of Bloom with Haroun al Raschid is a product of the era’s orientalism, equal parts fascination with an “exotic” culture and distancing one’s own culture from this mysterious “other.” Bloom is portrayed again and again throughout Ulysses as an outsider and “other” in the eyes of his Dubliner peers. In his dream, Stephen meets an outsider, who has taken the form of a figure from popular culture that represents an outside culture.
I am almosting it.
We’re still in “Proteus,” though, where even parts of speech are shapeshifters, slipping from adverb to verb in front of our eyes. Joyce said that this grammatical metamorphosis is a revelation of the Protean character of language, though it’s a quality he didn’t limit to “Proteus.”
That man led me, spoke. I was not afraid.
Bloom helps Stephen up from the street in Nighttown after the English soldier punched him in the face. Hoping to sober Stephen up, Bloom leads him to a cabman’s shelter beneath a bridge abutment along the River Liffey. Pretty straightforward.
The melon he had he held against my face. Smiled: creamfruit smell.
The “melon” Stephen sees in his dream is Bloom’s ideal of womanhood, Molly Bloom herself. He shows Stephen a photo of his wife over coffee and buns in the cabman’s shelter. Throughout the day, Stephen associates a melon with his prophetic dream. Mr. Bloom is also quite enamoured with melons, daydreaming about melon fields north of Jaffa in modern-day Israel. We learn towards the end of “Ithaca” that “melon” is his name for Molly’s butt:
He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
Bloom has a real fixation on butts in general, a quality he shared with his creator. Maybe don’t open that link in your office.
That was the rule, said.
The interpretation of this line is a bit controversial. Some scholars have interpreted “the rule” as the presumption that most middle-aged wives often commit adultery, as Molly has. However, others see this as a Homeric reference. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is guided into the abode of Circe by Hermes, who warned him of the rules he would need to follow while there. In this case then, Bloom as Haroun al-Raschid is not a depiction of Bloom’s literal easternness, but rather as a dream guide or psychopomp that leads Stephen through the horror realm of Nighttown. The surrealistic landscape of the “Circe” episode requires a guide from a far away, mysterious place, which could be the East or the Orient (or 7 Eccles Street) in the generic sense as depicted in a fantastical work like A Thousand and One Nights. Once again, Bloom’s Jewish heritage is “Eastern” enough for Stephen’s subconscious. Additionally, if Haroun al-Raschid is a fatherly character who helps ordinary folks solve their problems, Bloom definitely fits the part in the narrative of Ulysses.
In. Come. Red carpet spread.
Bloom leads Stephen to safety in 7 Eccles Street. Rolls out the red carpet for him, even.
You will see who.
This is a sentence that needs finishing. You will see who… Bloom is? You will see who… your real father is? I’ll leave that up to you, reader.
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Budgen, F. (1972). James Joyce and the making of Ulysses, and other writings. London: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, A. (1968). ReJoyce. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Carver, C. (1978). James Joyce and the Theory of Magic. James Joyce Quarterly, 15(3), 201-214. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25476132
Gifford, D., & Seidman, R. J. (1988). Ulysses annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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McCarroll, D. (1969). Stephen’s Dream—And Bloom’s. James Joyce Quarterly, 6(2), 174-176. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25486761
Walcott, W. (1971). Notes by a Jungian Analyst on the Dreams in “Ulysses”. James Joyce Quarterly, 9(1), 37-48. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25486942